Secret Giving

June 11, 2014

Martin B. Copenhaver

"When you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing so that you may give in secret." - Matthew 6:3-4

While a friend and I were waiting at the counter for our coffee, he asked, "Do you wait to put something in the tip jar until the barista can see you doing it?"

He went on to explain that he always makes sure that the person serving him sees that he is leaving a tip.  But he questions his own motives.  "On the one hand, it could be that I am just trying to get credit for leaving a tip (and I usually do get a nice 'thank you' in return).  But on the other hand, the tip is also a way of expressing appreciation—and that is an interaction between two individuals.  How can that interaction take place if she doesn't see me put my tip in the tip jar?"

To be sure, this is not one of the most pressing ethical issues of our time, but it is another example of our ambivalence about giving and secrecy.  In church I have heard (and have probably said myself on occasion), "Your giving is only between you and your God."  Really?  Is giving an entirely private matter?  What is the role of community and covenant?  At the very least, we have to confess that there is a great distance between "having all things in common," as the early church did, and the affirmation that, "giving is a private matter."  That sheer distance should give us pause.

Most of us are quite good at justifying our approach to money.  So if you are inclined to seek privacy in giving, consider that you may be trying to avoid accountability.  And if you are public in giving, consider that you may be looking for praise.  Hard to get it right?  Of course.  We are talking about money here.

Prayer

God, help me to think clearly about money—clearly enough that I know that it is most appropriate to begin with confession.

About the Author
Martin B. Copenhaver is the president of Andover Newton Theological School, Newton, Massachusetts, and the author of several books, including Living Faith While Holding Doubts.
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